Maximiliano Martín

John Robert Brown

"I was attacked on the street by two people. I lost my clarinets and my mouthpieces. The attackers hurt me." Maximiliano Martín (Mar-teen) is chatting to me in the restaurant of Edinburgh's famous Valvona and Crolla delicatessen. The smells of coffee, freshly baked bread, cheeses, and pastas piled to the ceiling, are wonderful. They create an atmosphere in civilised contrast to this gently recounted but barbaric story. Clearly the assault and theft was more than a 'little bit' of a shock - which is how Martín describes the violation he suffered. The mugging happened in Scotland, four years ago. Unfortunately, no-one was caught.

Maximiliano Martin Martín is sanguine about his ill fortune. After all, such an assault could easily spell the end of a professional woodwind player's career. For someone who is only entering his thirties, and already the principal clarinet of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), the assault could have been calamitous. But Martín is realistic, sober and focussed. He shows a commendable lack of self-absorption.

The clarinettist points to his restored front teeth. "For three or four months I was out of playing," he says. "Ever since then I haven't worried about clarinet mouthpieces, or reeds. I remember going to the shop to ask for an instrument. They had Buffet Tosca clarinets. I really love them, they are great instruments. The shop had Buffet B40 mouthpieces. I chose one. I went to Tenerife to recover from my injuries, put the instrument together, and blew. That was enough."

The paradox is that Martín now has a relaxed attitude to the equipment he uses. "I play with anything that works," he says. "I don't worry about mouthpieces and reeds. There are more important things, such as your breathing, and the way you produce your sound. You take your own sound with you. Since the assault, I don't want to think about mouthpieces. My set-up works for me; I'm happy with it." He uses Vandoren number three reeds. "Just normal, standard style, nothing fancy. I like to play with anything that works."

Martín has always played on Buffet clarinets. Now he is an endorsee. "I've always been happy with the Buffet company, from the way they treat the wood to their promotion and marketing,'" he says. "They've always been good to me. I've been to the Buffet factory twice, either to choose my own instruments or to buy for others.

"I'm used to the sound that I produce with a Buffet clarinet. I'm not adventurous. When you are used to something that works for you, it's difficult to change. The same with reeds or mouthpieces; it takes time to adapt to a new thing."

Maximiliano Martin Maximiliano Martín went to Tenerife to recover because he was born and grew up there, where his father is a jeweller. "My father always wanted to be a musician, because members of his family were conductors and composers," he says. "My father couldn't become a musician, because he was forced to work when he was little. Therefore, he said that the first child he had would be a musician. So he put me into it. He took me to a shop to choose an instrument. He asked the guy who was conducting the wind band at the time: 'What do you think is going to suit my boy?'"

The conductor needed clarinet players, so Martín got a clarinet. At eight or nine years old he started in the wind band in La Orotava, his home town. "Then I went to the conservatoire in Santa Cruz. Why not start that young, if you have someone who believes that they can do it?" he says. "My parents were always supportive to me."

Spanish school hours are different from those in Britain. In Spain, children do their general education during the morning, from eight until two. Young musicians go to the conservatoire in the afternoon from three until eight. "Your day is full," he says. "I remember going to school in the morning, then going to the conservatoire in the afternoon, and to the wind band at night. I would arrive home at 11.30 at night to do homework! It's just a completely different system. After that, I did one year in Barcelona. Then I came to Britain to go to the Royal College of Music (RCM)."

Coming to the UK in 1997, he had a challenging time coping with English. "It was difficult, especially in the first year. In the first six months I couldn't understand anything! I was very bad. I remember having trouble understanding." However, clarinet lessons were never a problem. "You play, your teacher tells you a little, or he demonstrates. You more or less catch what he's saying. But history, and harmony, and having to do presentations, I found testing," he says. "We had English lessons in the afternoon, about three times a week, but they were not very helpful. After the first year I got much better. I regained my confidence. Everything started to go smoothly.

"Then Janet Hilton came to the RCM as the Head of Woodwind, which was great for me. She supported me all the way. From my second year, college was fantastic. I learned a lot, and met so many fantastic players. I got the job here in Scotland as principal clarinet when I was doing my last year at the RCM. That was in the February, when I was due to finish college at the end of my postgraduate year in July. I started here in Edinburgh in February. I had to go back to London in June to do the exams. The RCM was supportive.

"At the beginning it was scary. I had a little orchestral experience, both from college and from youth orchestras in Spain. When you are suddenly in the profession, and you have big solos every week, you have to show them that you can do it. There is nobody to tell you how to play. At first that was a little difficult. But colleagues are supportive.

"The SCO is becoming younger and younger. It's not a huge orchestra, about forty players, funded by the Arts Council, by the Scottish Government, and private sponsors - banks and private companies."

He refuses to grumble about the work schedule. "I know that some players complain because they wish to be earning more money. But for me it's great, because it gives me time to do other things. It's important to practise, and to keep in control of what you are doing. Sometimes we forget that we have to practise, that we have to go back to basics. When you play for six or seven weeks, working hard every week, you go with the flow, but you can forget about how you play. To let yourself go could be easy."

But he doesn't. Indeed, my impression is that Martín is purposeful and industrious. "I was taught like that," he says. "Discipline is important, sometimes more important than talent. Talent without discipline is nothing. Menuhin used to say that. Seventy per cent discipline, and thirty percent talent."

His new CD is with piano. "I'm very happy with the recording, because I've done it with one of my good friends, Scott Mitchell," he says. "He's a fantastic pianist. We both work at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow. There are so many recordings of the masterworks, that I wanted to do something a little bit different." Pieces on the CD are by Miguel Yuste, Henri Rabaud, Antonio Romero, John McCabe, Charles-Marie Widor and Carl Maria von Weber. "Mostly pieces that are not done so often," he says.

We say our goodbyes. He goes to the gym, and I head to my next destination. On my car's player is a pre-release copy of Maximiliano Martín's new CD, Vibraciones del alma.

As I'd expected, the playing, and the recording, are excellent.
First published in CASS Magazine, the journal of the Clarinet and Saxophone Society, Autumn 2009. Used by permission. Reproduction forbidden.
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